Abbot Laboratories War Art
Mustard Gas Drill by Reginald Marsh
Abbott Laboratories, a large pharmaceutical company headquartered in North Chicago, Illinois, was intimately involved in the war effort. In addition to shipping drugs and pharmaceutical supplies to the medical corps overseas, Abbott focused much of its research efforts towards solutions that would benefit the men fighting oversea—testing compounds for malaria drugs, for example.
Abbott also had a long corporate history of supporting American artists, commissioning them to create works of art without commercial restriction. Charles S. Downs, art patron and Abbott's director of advertising, believed that good art-work could be a powerful took in bolstering public support for the war effort and in encouraging the public to buy war bonds. He initiated a formal agreement with the Federal Government by which Abbott would sponsor the creation of an art collection that would serve as a "comprehensive record of war activities, both at home and on the battlefield." The contract made it clear that the artwork was to be for the benefit of the American public, not Abbott Laboratories, and that the work would belong to the people.
The endeavor was actually collaboration between three entities: Abbott paid the artists for their time and expenses; Associated American Artists (AAA) in New York secured the artists and helped to administer the project, and the War Department provided transportation and hosted the artists overseas. More than two dozen artists sponsored by Abbott Laboratories went into battle as combat artists with the Army, Navy, and Marines. Among them were Robert Beney, Kerr Eby, Franklin Boggs, Reginald Marsh, Georges Schreiber, Joseph Hirsch, and John Steuart Curry. Under the direction of Reeves Lowenthal at AAA, they were assigned to focus on particular themes such as "Army Medicine" or "Navy Aviation." The resulting collections of paintings were hung as individual shows in public art galleries and museums around the country.
After the war, the Abbott collections were donated, as promised, to the War Department, dispersed to the branch of service depicted by each piece. Numbering well over one hundred paintings, they are an extraordinary and powerful account of World War II.